Do Doctors Make Better Serial Killers?

serial killers

Have you have ever asked yourself, “Do doctors make better serial killers?” No? Well, that’s a shame because you may have missed a new career opportunity. (Not that we are promoting that, but it is Halloween so let’s get into the spirit of things.) We’ve looked into this a bit and we have found that frighteningly, the answer to the question is a resounding yes – across the globe doctors do make better serial killers. It appears that whether you are a humane follower of the Hippocratic Oath or a demented, criminal serial killer, over-accomplishment is the bellwether of physicians. Here’s the proof that doctors do make better serial killers.

United States:

  1. Dr.” H. H. Holmes is considered one of the first serial killers in American history. He was reputed to be a lot of things and one of them was a physician. He expressed an early interest in medicine and attended the University of Michigan as a medical student where he stole corpses to file false insurance claims and possibly to experiment on. Best estimates are that he killed somewhere between 9 and 200 people in the late 1800s, the wide range due only to his creativity in his macabre career choice. He built a hotel specially designed to trap his victims, who he took from the grounds of the Chicago World’s Fair. He met his fate and was sentenced to death and executed by hanging. YIKES.
  2. Osteopath Linda Hazzard caused the deaths of at least 13 people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She promoted a “therapeutic fasting method” of medicine. However, it led to the starvation deaths of many of her patients. She believed in her own methods so much that she later died of starvation from her own fasting.

United Kingdom:

  1. Doctor Harold Shipman is reputed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. He is believed to have killed up to 250 people in his care, but he was only charged with the deaths of 15 patients. He was sentenced to life in prison but in 2004, Shipman hung himself.
  2. Sometimes you jail them for what you can. Dr. John Bodkin Adams was a British general practitioner and suspected serial killer. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances; 132 left him money or valuable items in their wills. Authorities couldn’t convict him of their deaths but they did get him for the fraud that led to him “inheriting” their worldly goods.


Doctor Marcel Petiot (aka Dr. Satan) was suspected of killing 60 people, but only 23 bodies were found in his Paris home during World War II. French authorities didn’t bother sentencing him to life in prison, he was beheaded in 1946.


Dr. Robert George Clements was a surgeon in Ireland. He was suspected of killing his four wives through morphine overdoses. Before he could stand trial he killed himself with his own overdose.


Dr. Hu Wanlin is considered the “most prolific serial killer in history”, giving British Doctor Harold Shipman a run for his money. His alleged “treatments” were suspected of killing 146 people. It’s a crazy story. According to one account, he was imprisoned for homicide in the 1980s as well as swindling, abducting and trafficking women. While in prison in 1993, he opened a medical practice. A retrial acquitted him of all charges in 1997. When he was released from prison he continued to practice medicine, albeit illegally, in two Chinese provinces where he had allegedly opened two separate hospitals. He practiced for a full year until local authorities banned his practice. He then moved to another province and opened yet another practice in 1998. He was arrested again in 1999, suspected of causing nearly 150 deaths. In the year 2000, he was convicted of practicing medicine without a license and received a sentence of 15 years in prison. However, he was released early, and according to state-run media in China, he was responsible for yet another death, a 22-year-old college student attending one his “health retreats”. He was arrested again. There’s no word on his disposition.  

That’s A Pretty Scary Compendium, Right?

It does prove that doctors make better serial killers, but we think there are several lessons to be learned as well.

  1. If you think medical school is like prison, turns out you’re right.
  2. Some physicians have killer egos.
  3. It seems the saying “It’s a tough medicine to take” has a very scary history.

If these reports cause you to look over your shoulder while practicing with your colleagues this Halloween, remember one thing: the really crazy ones usually look normal.

Deborah Chiaravalloti is an award-winning writer and former hospital executive. Her insider experience helps healthcare clients launch medical procedures, products including artificial intelligence software and knowledge sharing platforms. Deborah writes websites, blogs, opinion pieces, and marketing strategy for elder care, health care consumerism, revenue cycle management (RCM), and the business of healthcare. Her printed pieces have been published and her radio shows syndicated nationally.

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